Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teta, A Thousand Times... And One


A dark theater stage. At the center, a short flight of stairs and a woman at the top. A young man is giving her instructions on her posture, every movement and every gesture and most significantly, the way she should carry her imaginary violin.

Snapshot from Teta, Alf Marra by Mahmoud Kaabour

This is how I remember Mahmoud Kaabour. It was my first semester of Communication Arts at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. And outside of a few high school productions, this was the very first play I worked on. What a thrilling and exciting time! My first time in the theater, working on bringing a concept to life as part of the set construction crew. It was also when I met Milad Karkour, the beautiful and unforgettable soul and possibly the kindest, most dedicated person I have had the privilege of knowing. And of course Moalem Youssef, who has left an indelible mark in the hearts of all the students who passed by Irwin Hall and Gulbenkian Theater under his guidance and support. It was also on that stage that armed with a hammer and some nails, I met Maha Moussa, the accomplice of my university years and incontestably, the partner with whom I shared the LAU I know and made for myself. So it is no understatement when I say, my very first memory of theater at LAU and perhaps university in general is forever connected to Mahmoud Kaabour in some accidental, yet personally beautiful sort of way.

That is why this name brings back an overflow of emotions which I have to admit, prevented me from completing this post in a timely manner. But here I am now, not to take you on some walk down memory lane or talk about the past, but to introduce the genuine letter of love dedicated to the woman behind the man in the spotlight.

Mahmoud Kaabour may not be around to write it himself, but it is probably not a coincidence that fate would have his eldest grand-son, who out of all his descendants happens to also carry his name, speak for him. Like the ultimate extension of life. Passing on a name from one generation to the next, ensuring some sort of continuation, and ultimately some kind of immortality. After all in Lebanon, we do say "Those with offsprings never die".

But in the case of Mahmoud Kaabour Jr., this role seems to have been in the making since birth. Apparently, the young filmmaker shares common physical traits with his grand-father but also the same love for music and the violin. Is it another coincidence that his grand-mother would call him her "little husband" since his childhood years, winking at the resemblances he and his grand-father share, beyond a first name?

Teta, Alf Marra Production Still - Source

Maybe. Maybe not. What is certain is that he is the one who will tell the love story of this woman with the older Mahmoud. A story that transcends time and death. He is the one who will immortalize this woman's voice and words and gestures on film just like his grand-father immortalized his voice, words and gestures in music. Some of which, unknown to the public, were recorded in his own bedroom. It is from this most intimate sanctuary that his grand-son will finally extend these private compositions to the outside, to the world, to our ears and into our souls.

Teta, Alf Marra is a biography narrated informally through the words the Kaabour matriarch, a strong woman who certainly intimidates most with her candor and force. She does not hide or even tune down her emotions and thoughts for anyone. Not for the street vendors she commands from her balcony like the queen she truly is. Nor for her family or even for the sake of Eva, the future grand-daughter-in-law she meets for the first time.

Teta, Alf Marra is also the autobiography told through the tacit tale that transpires from what is spoken out loud, from every gesture and every silence. The Kaabour matriarch is also Teta Fatima, a touching and moving woman who will at one point or another drive even the most restrained to tears.

Teta, Alf Marra Production Still - Source

This film may be a documentary, but it is a romantic ode as well. An homage to Teta, a tribute to Mahmoud and a rebellion against Death.

Yes, people will undeniably end. But it is never The End. Mahmoud may be gone but Mahmoud is still here. Fatima may have the memories of Mahmoud and a past married life to keep her company but Eva has the presence of Mahmoud and the promise of a hopeful future to build and guard. And also to preserve and eternize the legacy they inherited. For the sake of Fatima and Mahmoud.

If you already have an appreciation for documentaries, this film is just for you. Because it is made with authenticity and respect for reality and the truth, which happen to be qualities that Teta Fatima embodies herself.

If you hate the genre, this film is just for you too. Because it is made by Mahmoud Kaabour, a filmmaker with a theater background, a graduate from the performing arts. Teta, Alf Marra brings to the screen the director's staging creativity, dramatic vision and even his very own acting skills.

All supported with the brilliant cinematography of Muriel Aboulrouss who managed to somehow paint the music through Patricia Heneine's flawless editing: a visual concert of images playing in harmony with Kaabour's violin.

Image Credit: R. Abouzeid - Source

Then why not gift yourself some beauty in a box? The DVD and Soundtrack are an absolute delight to the eyes and the ears.

And I was overjoyed at the sight of Being Osama in the bonus features! I was actually looking for the film and could not find it so this was a perfect surprise. Although produced almost a decade ago, it remains relevant to this day, even more than ever. There truly is a Before 9/11 era which seems to be long gone now, and we currently have to live in a Post 9/11 age, with all the political, social and economical consequences it forces on us in this part of the world but also on all Arabs worldwide.

So if you do not know him already, let Mahmoud Kaabour to your screen and into your home. Allow him to challenge your eyes, your ears, your mind and your heart. He will not disappoint.

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